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Sunday Sermon 19 June 2016 – liberated!

Readings: Luke 8:26-39

MESSAGE

Luk 8:27 When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. Luk 8:28 When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!”

I wonder how you would have felt doing some pastoral visiting at this man’s place.

It’s not exactly welcoming.

The average church pastoral team would rather call a medical emergency line. Or simply dial 111. Or 999, depending where you live.

It’s a cemetery for one thing.

My first church posting as a pastor alone was in a town where the church met in a national monument made of stone strategically placed between two cemeteries. There was no power – the organ ran on a petrol generator.

In time we moved out to a local school, and after I moved on they built a church building.
We never did have evening services between those two cemeteries.

This man –
• He lived amongst the dead
• He was in chains
• He was naked

And I’m sure people were comfortable that he stayed there – that he didn’t wander into town at night.

Trust Jesus to show up there. He’s had a nap on the boat ride over. Just by the way – the sea of Galilee is an inland lake 166 square kms (for kiwis, Taupo is 616 square kms.) It was a bumpy ride in a fierce storm.

He’s had his followers accusing him of not caring that they might drown.

He’s calmed the squall – we love that story because we’d all like our storms in life stilled – we all want peace.

And now he encounters this! With all its potential for violence and plenty of drama.

This was not Jewish territory. The pigs give that away.

The man was unwell by any standards – and there were no psychiatrists back in the day. In today’s medical terms he would probably be classified as mentally ill. And institutionalized because he was a risk to others and himself. Possibly Psychotic at the least. Not to speak of the terrible loneliness and isolation. And self-harm and ferocity.

The encounter with Jesus is also intriguing. Why is he so afraid of Jesus tormenting him? Okay perhaps it’s the demon voices speaking – if you are a strict literalist. On the other hand, it could also be symptomatic of a real desire of this sick man not to face reality. Perhaps it’s all too hard for him.

Someone has suggested that strangers would be kinder to us if we are seriously ill – because they would have no special concern for us and would try to make us feel good.

Those who love us, on the other hand, would ask the hard questions and want us to face real change.

I take the demonic in scripture very seriously – but not all the people Jesus healed were demonized. It’s more complex than that.

Whatever the cause of this man’s oppression, he would have been terrified of change. His home among the dead was at least predicable in some way. And he would hardly have been welcome in so called normal society. The prejudice is just as real today if we are off the spectrum in terms of our mental health.

The truth is that most of us are at best ambivalent about dealing with radical change in our lives.

Jesus addresses these demons – the Legion. They don’t want to go into the Abyss – a unique word in Luke it seems – the place of the dead perhaps, the deep (Psalm 107:26 cf. Romans 10:7) – or an equivalent of hell or hades (Luke 16:23). (cf. Rev 9:11 and Jude 1:6).

It’s a troubling thing for the locals that the demons ask for permission to go into the pigs.

2000 pigs according to Mark. At $50 each conservatively that’s $100 000 worth of disruption for the locals.

What a story to share with your neighbours. The grapevine would have been red hot.

WHAT ABOUT US?

• There are degrees of brokenness. But we are all broken.
• There are degrees of sickness.
• But we are all vulnerable.

No matter who we are – we are part of this broken world.

And there are plenty of people out there tormented by oppression, mental illnesses, addictions, loneliness and despair.

At a very basic level this story gives hope – and disturbs people all at once.

Luk 8:34 When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, Luk 8:35 and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.

The naked mad one is doing what we all need to do – sitting at Jesus’ feet. Doing the Mary thing (which Martha struggled with if you remember).

And he’s dressed.

And in his right mind.

And the people are afraid! And rightly so – if Jesus can do this – perhaps they thought – what then could he do in my life? Do I want that?

Do you want that? Radical transformation? or would you prefer respectable Christianity – tamed religion.

The locals didn’t want it. Look at verse 37: Luk 8:37 Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

But the story does end with such a positive statement:

Luk 8:38 The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, Luk 8:39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Note the shift from God to Jesus.

When we meet with Jesus ourselves – we too can’t stay on a high as it were. On the mountain top – or in the boat after the storm.

We have to go home and tell others about it.

He does it: So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

We missed verse 36: Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured.

There’s the key. The word cured also means healed and saved, liberated. We need that too. How much Jesus had done indeed.

Marvelous. Brilliant. Wonderful. Stunning. Fantastic. Miraculous.

Praise God for His grace. He still sets people free today.

Amen.

Sermon 15 June – O you of little faith!

Readings: Psalm 55:1-8; Luke 8:22-25

MESSAGE

Have you ever wanted to fly?

I don’t mean on an aeroplane. I mean if you could just grow wings and go wherever you want.

In Psalm 55 David is having troubles with a whole lot of things and people. Crazy scary emotions. His heart is in anguish – probably racing – he is experiencing fear and trembling and horror – and he prays this prayer which has been sung for many years around the world since written in 1844 by Felix Mendelssohn the German composer:

Psa 55:6  I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest—

Psa 55:7  I would flee far away and stay in the desert; Selah

Psa 55:8  I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm.

Here it is to listen to:

Of course you wouldn’t really want to be a dove –  there are horrible cats out there and birds of prey that can nab you.

But there are times when we feel like escaping the storms of life. The troubles out there and our fears and concerns in our hearts.

It does feel like we are in a storm tossed boat.

The bible reading from Luke today is about a scene like that.

A number of Jesus’ followers were fishermen and they did travel by boat at times – Jesus was quite busy around Lake Galilee. Which actually is quite big – 166 square kilometres. Not as big as Taupo though – which is 616 square kilometres.

I’s not surprising Jesus is asleep in the boat. He would have been ministering to many people and large crowds tended to follow him.

His followers are really stressed by this storm. It’s described here as a squall – by Mark as a furious squall, and by Matthew as a furious storm. Maybe Matthew the tax collector didn’t have sea legs and it felt much worse.

So they wake Jesus up – don’t you care we are going to drown?

Sounds like our prayer lives. Save us! Don’t you care? It’s all a bit much in the storms of our lives.

Amazingly he speaks peace – and the storm is stilled.

And of course he tells them off – you of little faith! (Matthew). Do you still have no faith? (Mark). Where is your faith? (Luke).

If you are in a storm today in your life.

If your boat is been overwhelmed by the waves and you feel you may sink.

And it feels like He is not hearing your cries for help – that he is sleeping – be of good cheer and have faith! Trust him!

Listen to Psalm 121  – which is one of the Psalms they would pray as they went up to Jerusalem to worship. Let it speak to you.

Psa 121:1  A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?

Psa 121:2  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psa 121:3  He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;

Psa 121:4  indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

Psa 121:5  The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand;

Psa 121:6  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

Psa 121:7  The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;

Psa 121:8  the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

He is not asleep. He’s right here with us.

Receive His peace today.

Amen.

Sunday sermon 5 April 2015 – Easter Sunday

Readings:  1 Corinthians 15:1-11;  Matthew 28:1-10

Message – Facing Jesus again:

Have you ridden in a hearse before? I have, over the years. I’ve had to help funeral directors load people into the back too.

My piano was a gift. I was playing piano at a conference, and and member of our church years ago came up to me and asked if I had a piano at home. An odd question to ask a pianist. I confessed I did not. “We have two” she said. “we would like to give you one of them.” Very biblical, not so.

We discussed how to move the piano while arranging another friend’s mother’s funeral. It had to travel about 110 kms to our town. “I can do that” said my undertaker friend. Sure enough the piano arrived in a van marked “Saffas” a funeral company. Interesting look from the neighbours. It wasn’t a hearse thankfully. Kind of a mortuary van. One can only imagine the neighbours peering over the fence.

Here’s one of my favourite stories about hearses. True story. A Methodist minister was asked to conduct a graveside service for a member of his church. The only problem was, the cemetery was more than an hour and a half away from the church. The minister wasn’t feeling well so he decided to ride with the Funeral Director in the hearse. In the front seat.

By the time they arrived at the cemetery, the flu had invaded completely and he said he felt terrible. Feverish and sick, he made it through the service, but he was starting to look like most flu victims, like death warmed over.

As they headed back home, the funeral director suggested the minister stretch out in the back of the hearse. It had curtains and nobody would see him. The minister thought it was a good idea and promptly fell asleep.He awoke when the vehicle stopped. Taking a few minutes to fully awaken, he slowly sat up and drew the side curtain to see where he was. He was face to face with a petrol station attendant, who was surprised and shocked to see a body in the back of the hearse staring back at him.

With all the colour drained out of him and his eyes as wide as saucers, the petrol pump flew into the air, and the attendant ran on shaky legs back into the gas station, while the funeral director tried to catch up to explain the whole situation.

We’re not really used to dead people getting up again. Not from a grave, a hearse or a mortuary van!

And even if the disciples had actually believed Jesus, they weren’t really hanging around the tomb to see the “what if” scenario. What if he does rise?

Death has that terrible effect of shutting down possibilities like that. It is very final.

But these women seem to be keeping an eye on things – according to Matthew. Verse one tells us this: Mat 28:1  After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. And in the previous chapter, chapter 27, they were there too. They were at the cross, the burial and back on the third day. Have a look:

As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61)

Here’s the fascinating thing. You know we’ve talked before about Jesus eating fish on the beach and also appearing in locked rooms? Well here – let me read it to you again:

After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.  There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. (Matthew 28:1-3)

What doesn’t happen here? They witness the stone rolling back. You would expect Jesus to come out – a bit like Lazarus. But no. He doesn’t.

What do you think this means then? Perhaps this – He didn’t need the stone to be rolled away for his resurrection. They needed the stone rolled away to see he wasn’t there!

The guards are still there. The next verse puts their military prowess on the line: Mat 28:4  The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. They are spooked by the angel. Do they faint? It certainly seems so.

The women hold their ground. Perhaps their watching – their vigil – is more than just bringing spices to the tomb (as in Mark). Matthew sees it differently. Perhaps they had an expectation?

By the way, Jews in those days believed that the soul kind of hung around the body for three days – and then moved on. Just saying. One of those interesting things. And people prayed at the tomb – even in the tomb – for a week. So the spices were helpful. Archaeology has revealed tombs with a part dug down inside, made lower, so people could stand upright in the tomb and pray. Jews stood and prayed.

That’s the girls for you. Always on the lookout. Happy to tell the story. Teach boys and girls and you will always find the girls have much more to say!! (No I’m not sexist!)

THE GIRLS ARE TO TELL THE BOYS

So the girls are instructed by the angel (that caused the big burly Roman soldiers to pass out in shock)

  • Not to fear – he knew what they were up to (verse 5) “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.”
  • What has happened (verse 6) “He is not here, He has risen, just as he said!”
  • Have a look at where he lay in the tomb (verse 6) “Come and see the place where he lay.”
  • Where he was to be seen – in Galilee (verse 7) “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.”

Off they go: Mat 28:8  So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.- the boys – where to expect him (verse 7). Off they go.

But just in case an angel’s instruction is not enough, Jesus appears to them too – while they are on the run: Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  (Matthew 28:9-10)

IT’S A FACINATING ACCOUNT. Imagine this. So you’re one of those men/boys – disciples. The A team – mainly men – who had not done that well (one betrayal, one denial, one hanging around, on running off and leaving his clothes behind).

And these women (both Marys – see Mark 16:1 –  When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.) … these women pass on the message from Jesus: “Jesus says – go to Galilee – you will see him there.”

O dear. Do we want to see Jesus – after we failed him? We ran away – denied him, and one of the team betrayed him and we didn’t even see that coming.

  • What are we going to say to him? How awkward! We really thought that we knew Judas as well!
  • If this is true – is he really alive? Or are the Marys losing their minds?

Matthew stands alone in this respect. Only here in this gospel do the women see, touch and worship Jesus. (verse 9)

And the word for worship takes us all the way back to the beginning of Matthew.

The men obviously listen and go to Galilee – Galilee of the gentiles (Isaiah 9).

And about that “worship” word. It is the gentile magi – the so called wise men – who “worship” baby Jesus with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. The word for “worship” is the same here. It means to bow down and to kiss.

Worship is the appropriate response for the women. The men will work it out in their own ways – from Peter’s restoration to Thomas’ touching his wounds.

And the special, unique factor in this account is verse 10. The women are met and encounter Jesus in a way that works for them.

For the boys – there is this unique authority in this instruction. I will read it again – listen up! What do you think the key is?

Mat 28:10  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

There’s no other place where this happens where he speaks of them as brothers (apart from John 20:17). A preacher called Mark Trotter puts it like this: Something as deep and mysterious as the Resurrection of our Lord has many levels of meaning. But Matthew wants you to consider this one. It reveals a God whose love for us is like a parent’s love for a prodigal child. Even if we reject God, God will never, never reject us. And if we do evil things, then God, out of God’s love, will find a way to make something good come out of it.

Like the reconciliation in the Old Testament between Joseph and his brothers: “as for you, you meant it for evil; but God meant it for good.”

You could put it like this: Go tell my brethren, [who fell asleep instead of watching and praying, who betrayed me, or who ran away] that I will meet them in Galilee, [to forgive them and give them new life.]

There are a series of resurrection appearances – appropriate for all. Paul records in 1 Corinthians 15. Listen to what he says again:

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. (1 Corinthians  15:1-8)

How about you? Have you had an encounter with the risen Jesus? My prayer is that you certainly do! You can – in prayer, in faith and trust, in communion – in whatever way is appropriate to you, you can meet him as he did the women and men back then.

Take the time to meet Him!

Easter Sunday sermon 20 April 2014 – Don’t be afraid…

Readings

Colossians 3:1-4

Col 3:1  So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

Col 3:2  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

Col 3:3  for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Col 3:4  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Matthew 28:1-10

Mat 28:1  After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Mat 28:2  And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Mat 28:3  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

Mat 28:4  For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

Mat 28:5  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.

Mat 28:6  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

Mat 28:7  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

Mat 28:8  So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Mat 28:9  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

Mat 28:10  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

Reflection

How many times have you been in a cemetery?

I was outside one on Thursday night – and it seemed a good place to talk about Easter.

Most people don’t hang out in cemeteries. They went into St Marys church rather than hang around the dark gloomy cemetery on Thursday.

In fact we avoid dead bodies generally.

Story

I read an account this week of a pastor who had to travel about an hour with an undertaker to a cemetery for a burial. He wasn’t feeling well and by the time they got to the graveside service, the pastor was really crook. Sick as … to use the local jargon.

He croaked his way through the service – pardon the pun – and the job was done.

After the family left, the very nice funeral director suggested he might feel better if he lay down in the back of the hearse for the long trip back.

What he had forgotten was that he had to stop for petrol on the way home – those big Cadillacs are gas guzzlers.

You can imagine the chaos while the attendant was filling up the car – when the pastor sat up in the back of the hearse and looked out the window.

The attendant ran like the wind – abandoning his duties!

People are not good with dead bodies. Back in the day you had to make your own coffin and organise things – lay the dead out – dig a hole and bury them. You had to do it yourself – well not your own funeral but family members.

Undertakers undertake that for us now. They direct funerals.

Jesus’ friends had to do it too. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were the ones. And when the women went to the tomb on the 3rd day it was do complete the proper funeral matters as things had been rushed on the day of Jesus’ death.

They were much better with dead bodies than we are today.

What we have in common with them – was that they did not expect dead bodies to disappear or for the dead to get up that often. If at all. Dead bodies that move can really spook people.

It’s no wonder that there was chaos in Matthew’s account of that first Resurrection day. The day we worship on – Sunday.

The ones who copped it really badly were the Roman guards. They had an angel, an earthquake, and a  stone moving in a cemetery.

Mat 28:2  And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.

Mat 28:3  His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.

Mat 28:4  For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 

One writer puts it like this:

The quiet of the dawn is interrupted by the earth’s quaking and by the appearance of an angel that requires contradictory images to describe. He is riding the earth’s quaking, flashing like lightning, and dressed in snow! He is powerful enough to roll away the stone in front of the tomb and then, calmly, to sit on it. It is no wonder that the guards shake and fall over as if dead, when they see him. Actually, the guards quake, as with fear. The Greek translated “shook” in the NRSV (v. 4) is directly related to the Greek word for “earthquake” (v. 2). The guards shiver and shake; they quake and pass out from fear.

(Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2011-05-31). Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 12716-12720). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.)

Things are shaken up in every way.

The truth is that things are shaken up in every way in our lives. And I suspect the shaking is going to get worse.

It’s the angel’s calling card – or greeting – that is key.

Mat 28:5  But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.

Mat 28:6  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.

And of course Jesus says the same:

Mat 28:8  So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.

Mat 28:9  Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

Mat 28:10  Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

And later when he appeared in locked rooms, He said “peace be with you”.

“Do not be afraid” and “peace be with you” are really helpful to us to when life gets shaken up.

The heart of it is the resurrection of Jesus. We worship him now because he was raised and lives forever.

We trust Him still because the good news of His overcoming death puts everything into its proper place.

And His promise to be with us is real too.

He tells them – in this account – to go back to Galilee.

That’s the place where the action was – and life was to go on for His team of followers as they spread the good news. The gospel of Jesus and the resurrection was proclaimed to all they could reach and eventually touched the whole known world.

On Christmas Day 1814 – almost 200 years ago this good news came to New Zealand when the first Christian sermon was preached by Samuel Marsden up in the Bay of Islands.

This Gospel has shaped this nation in ways not recognised by many.

The reconciliation between God and man through Christ has implications for culture and conflict alike. A lot changed in those early years because of this Gospel.

Peace – tolerance – and a new nation based on mutual respect was born – with Christian missionaries at the centre.

  • In this new generation the same Gospel has relevance for this nation and this city of ours.
  • Christ is alive and still at work. It’s up to us whether we want to be part of what the risen Lord is doing today – and if we let Him use us!

He still says “don’t be afraid” and “peace be with you” in every kind of conceivable situation – in many lives of people from all corners of the world.

We praise his wonderful name! We have been raised with Christ, says Paul in our other reading for today! Look up! Look to God and His ways:. He says:

Col 3:2  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,

Col 3:3  for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

Col 3:4  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

Through faith and by our baptism we too have died and we are raised up by his resurrection. We already live in a different zone.  Our priorities change to line up with God’s purpose – and we are never the same again.

Amen.